Pasteur-politician continues to fight for church closures | California

(The Center Square) – A church in Ventura County, Calif., Has appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a legal battle it has been waging with state and county since April 2020, a month after that an emergency stay-at-home order has been issued by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Pastor Rob McCoy and Newbury Park’s Godspeak Calvary Chapel challenged state and county orders last year by remaining open during home ordering. They have been sued by the state and county, and have since been dropped. The church’s counter-suit remains on appeal.

McCoy has said he’s ready to take his case to the United States Supreme Court for his argument that no government has the power to shut down a church or restrict First Amendment worship.

In 2020, some governors, citing public health concerns, issued decrees labeling places of worship non-essential, requiring them to close. Places of worship that did not comply were fined, and rabbis, pastors and their followers were threatened with jail.

Before last year, no state, governor or county official had ever sued a church for staying open during a public health crisis. Historically, during public crises, churches and religious leaders have worked with government officials to provide aid to their local communities, plaintiffs in other cases have argued in their legal cases.

The Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, unlike other churches involved in legal battles with their state or county governments, is unique in that its pastor was also elected for five and a half years. While retaining his pastoral duties, McCoy ran for a state assembly seat and won his primary but lost in the general election. When his opponent left his seat on Thousand Oaks City Council, he ran and won. He was re-elected and during that term his colleagues on the city council chose him to serve as mayor for a year. He was both parish priest and mayor.

But when the county issued an ordinance declaring that places of worship were not essential and should remain closed, McCoy lost his elected post, saying he had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and could not stand. comply with an order that violated it.

On May 31, 2020, McCoy signed a declaration of essentiality and opened his church for services, publicly expressing his belief that neither the state nor the county has a legal basis to ban indoor worship services. A series of legal proceedings followed which ultimately led to his being found guilty of contempt of court by a Superior Court judge. McCoy has never been to jail.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled earlier this year that no governor could impose warrants on places of worship that were not similarly imposed on secular entities. Newsom and the Ninth Circuit have also received reprimands from Supreme Court justices for failing to follow their many rulings on religious freedom cases since they issued a first ruling in a New York affair the day before Thanksgiving 2020.

In a separate case brought by Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church, which also appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the justices ruled 6-3 that Newsom’s bans and restrictions on religious worship violated the First Amendment . Following the ruling, Liberty Counsel, who represented Harvest, argued that the state could never again impose “discriminatory restrictions” on places of worship.

Its founder and chairman Mat Staver argued that “Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions have intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many businesses and secular gatherings. The Supreme Court has intervened on several occasions to provide redress. California will never again be able to impose discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship. “

McCoy’s case argues that the government has no power at all to shut down places of worship. The rulings and regulations relating to other cases imply that if restrictions were also placed on secular entities and places of worship, the case of discrimination would be moot. The problem is not with the unequal treatment between a church and Walmart, for example, because the First Amendment specifically protects the church, not Walmart, its lawyers say.

Ventura County described Godspeak’s services as “super-broadcast events” threatening the community. Despite requests for data, the county has not released any information from its contact tracing program to show anyone has contracted the coronavirus from the church.

In August 2020, the County Oversight Board voted specifically to prevent McCoy’s Church from praying inside its shrine, and a Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against him. prohibiting meeting in person, which the church did not comply with.

Ultimately, the county dropped its lawsuit, also dropping McCoy’s contempt charge and all fines imposed on the church. When it offered to settle the church’s lawsuit, the church refused and Superior Court judge Henry Walsh dismissed their case last month.

Walsh cited the fact that the governor’s orders restricting Godspeak had been lifted, therefore any harm done to Godspeak was no longer relevant. He argued: “With the widespread distribution of vaccines and the low rates of cases and hospitalizations, the state is now returning to normal…. and the state no longer faces the threat of the state health system being overwhelmed.

But Newsom has not lifted the state of emergency and has since imposed vaccination warrants.

Tyler & Bursch attorney Nada Higuera, who represents McCoy and Godspeak, told The Center Square: “The dismissal of this case by the court is an abdication of its duty to administer justice. The court allowed the government to harm a church, violate its rights, and then get away with it simply because the illegal orders were lifted. Under this precedent, the government can impose any tyrannical and unconstitutional order as long as the order is quashed before a case is completed. This is especially true when the state and county retain emergency powers to reimpose down-hat restrictions. “

Since the state shutdown last year, McCoy says more people have come to his church than ever before, and the church has never had a coronavirus outbreak.

His church has “baptized more people in eight months than the church population was eight months ago,” he said. “These are people who came because their freedoms were taken. Their streams of freedom dried up and they went upstream to find the source of freedom – Jesus. Because freedom, he argues, “is not the idea of ​​man. Freedom is the idea of ​​God.


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